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I'm Oprah Winfrey, welcome to Super Soul Conversations, the podcast, I believe that one of the most valuable gifts you can give yourself is time taking time to be more fully present. Your journey to become more inspired and connected to the deeper world around us. Starts right now.


For 30 years now, five nights a week, millions of Americans stay up past their bedtime to catch David Letterman's razor sharp spin on the news of the day. His groundbreaking brand of offbeat humor brought us stupid pet tricks, outrageous gags. Paul Shaffer in The World's Most Dangerous Band and the hugely popular top 10 list. Tonight, I'm in the Midwestern town of Muncie, Indiana, home to David Letterman's beloved alma mater, Ball State University. For over 20 years, he's provided scholarships here to deserving broadcasting students.


I met him on campus at the twenty one million dollar state of the art communications building that bears his name.


What do you think? This is good. A very nice. Here. Oh, look at this. Oh, so thanks for agreeing to do it here. I think this is a perfect place, actually.


Well, good, good. Yes. I mean, well, we get to see another side of, you know, you're not going to see anything. You're not going to see anything here. I know you didn't see anything. So we're here at your alma mater, Ball State University, in the David Letterman Communication and Media Center. Yeah, we just walked into this. I know it's crazy, isn't it? Named after you name for me? Yes.


This is something that I did for my mother. The president of the university joined Guera. This was an idea that I believe she and my mother conspired to accomplish to have a building named after. Yeah. And I sort of felt like let's just wait till I drop dead and then you name whatever you want after me or name nothing after me. But it is now such an incredible source of pride for me, and it's one of the great things in my life.


So when you came here in nineteen sixty five, radio and television as a major certainly was not a popular career path. No. You chose it because. Because I knew that I wanted to somehow be in broadcasting. And when did you know that? When I was a sophomore in high school.


David grew up in Indianapolis, the only son of Joe, a florist, and Dorothy, a church secretary, the middle child between two sisters as a boy in the 1950s, David spent hours watching TV greats like Arthur Godfrey, Steve Allen and Johnny Carson.


When did you first know you were funny? Well, I'm still waiting for the results, but you had to know somewhere in your conscious subconscious you knew you were funny, Dave.


Well, like like I had a bunch of buddies and they were all funny. Yeah. So it didn't it didn't seem like my father was the funny. What? He was the lightning rod. He got all of the attention. He was funny. My grandfather was funny, but I never had the confidence to say to anybody, hey, look at this. I'm pretty funny because I never felt that way. What was your first broadcasting job? Well, I worked right here at the radio station in College Station.


Best, I think, was the name of the college radio station. And when I worked in television in Indianapolis, they didn't like me. And I had this. I had to sit there. It's hard to be on TV if people don't like you as you now. Well, I've done it for 30 years.


David landed his first job on TV as a local news anchor and weather man in Indianapolis. He also hosted a weekly late night movie fest. At age 28. He quit his job and moved to Los Angeles. He quickly found a home at the Comedy Store. David honed his standup skills next to another up and comer, Jay Leno. David had his life altering moment when The Tonight Show producer booked him to perform for his idol, Johnny Carson. Do you remember?


Do you remember everything about.


Yes, remember everything about it. And I did. I did well. And I got to go sit with Johnny. And it was it was crazy. Just crazy. And you get that that surge of electricity that you think, God, if this doesn't dissipate, I will be asleep to Labor Day, you know? Oh, my God. I mean, it's like now I'm sitting next to Oprah Winfrey. Then I was sitting next to Johnny Carson.


And this is we're not kidding around now. And I was lucky enough to get invited back and back and back. So that was good.


You all became good friends. Well, he was very sweet to me, he would invite me to his house, we would go out to dinner, but I was always nervous. I was just I couldn't relax around him. And because I knew that Johnny had a love hate relationship with alcohol and a couple of times we'd be out to dinner and I saw him go to the vodka and then you could just see a little edge, kind of a and I thought, I don't want to be around here.


All of a sudden Johnny decides he's had enough of me. He doesn't like me. Yeah. Yeah. Because I just felt like a pretender because I never wanted to disappoint him. I just thought if I say something stupid, adios.


Do you think he was the kind of person anybody could ever really get to know? Well, I don't think that I ever really got to know him. I knew him from being on the show. I knew him from the few.


Do you think you're the kind of guy people can get to know?


I think there's a group of people that I've worked with for 30 years who I'm very, very, very comfortable with and around whom my behavior seems normal. It's just Dave. Yeah. You bring an intern in who doesn't know what's going on and they get stories for the rest of their life. Really? Yeah. Because are you hard to work with?


Not hard, but just peculiar, peculiar, peculiar, peculiar ism.


Well, I remember the interns. We have so many of them and it's always, you know, hi Bob. I can't see and we haven't had a Barbara Kennedy work for us ever. Yeah. And so now they can go around so and so that first day I meet him, he's calling me Kennedy in nineteen ninety one.


After 30 years of hosting The Tonight Show, Roomers leaked that late night giant Johnny Carson was considering retirement.


The news sparked a high stakes battle to fill Johnny's coveted seat. Just days before Carson confirmed he was stepping down, NBC told Jay Leno he had won the late night fight. David Letterman went on to strike a multimillion dollar deal with CBS, his new show with tape in New York and air opposite Jay Leno. For the past twenty years, the two comic legends and rivals have gone head to head in the ratings with an almost even split. So you sat in all those years, everybody expected you to be the heir.


Did you also in your somewhere in your subconscious think you would be the heir, not subconscious? I had a meeting and they said, we want you to take Johnny's job. Yeah. And we're here's how we're going to do it. We just want to make sure that you're interested in this. And and then we're going to call the so-and-so. And then we think that it'll be a combination where you start filling in and then eventually Johnny goes. So they had this conversation.


We had two, two meetings. And I finally said, this is great. I said, have you told have you mentioned this to Johnny? And they said, well, no, we haven't we haven't mentioned this to Johnny. And I said, well, you know, I can't have this conversation until I know that it's OK with Johnny. And that's the last I heard. So it wasn't just me wanting and hoping there was a conversation he had they had reached out to me.


But I understand that what they wanted was completely self-serving. They wanted to continue to maintain the show so that they could make a lot of money. Now, what NBC wanted turned out to be something different. So I really I can't complain about that. You know, you can't force somebody to want you.


Did you think you deserve to have that spot? Deserve no, should have had. I was disappointed that I didn't get it, but but I never thought I never felt like something had been ripped from my heart.


That's a fair answer. OK, so, you know, there is an assumption over the years that because you didn't get it and Jay Leno did that, that's where the rivalry between the two of you started. Is that true?


No, no. Jay and I were friends. We were always friends before all of this happened. He has a way. He's an unusual fellow. I've never met anyone quite like Jay. And I will say, and I'm happy to say that I think is the funniest guy I've ever known. Just flat out, if you go to see him do a nightclub act, just the funniest, the smartest, wonderful observations, just and very appealing as a comic.


Therefore, the fact that he is also maybe the most insecure person I have ever known, I could never reconcile that you're the best. Why are you doing things to to support this insecurity?


Everybody thinks you're insecure, too. Not to the degree this man is this this is the guy that it is documented as hiding in a closet while they were having a business meeting at NBC to decide who would get The Tonight Show chair. So I have not hidden in closet, not for that purpose. I found myself sadly in a closet, but not for that purpose for that. So your reason for the rivalry is because of his Jay's insecurity? Well, how it manifests itself.


And that's all I want to say about that, because I just tell you this when we were all kids and I do still think in our friends I would. He thinks so, too. I think so. I think so because I got too much on him, you know, but when he and I were kids and somebody would go on like The Merv Griffin Show. And if you didn't do well, yeah, Jay would come and you see Larry on the show.


No, I didn't. Yeah, I got a tape back and that's come on back. We'll take a look at it. And he would invite you back to watch one of our fellow comics bomb. And it was just like, oh, Jay, stop that. You know, that's so that when we did the Super Bowl spot, what, two or three years ago, you all had and like communicated years and years and years.


Was that awkward for you? No, it was great because as he and I discussed then. Our way of life at the Comedy Store, yes, is exactly the way you would think it would be for a group of comics. It was tinged with sarcasm and ugliness and insult. But everybody loved it. We thrived on it. Yeah, we could call each other names. We could steal each other's jokes. We could make fun of each other's girlfriends and this and that.


And this and that. You take that out of the Comedy Store and all of a sudden, oh, my God, it's civil war. We can't believe it. But the truth of it is the way Jay and I have behaved toward each other is the way comics tend to behave toward one another. Got it.


David Letterman met his wife Regina when she was a production manager for his show. They were together for 23 years and already had a five year old son when they were married by a justice of the peace in Montana.


So have there been times when you were saying coming into this building, it's a it is an ego trip to have your name on the building. But have there been times when your ego got the best of you, Dave?


Oh, all the time. All the time. I think all the time. I can remember as a kid showing off and having the rug pulled out from under me numerous times. And that stays with you. I have a very low threshold of embarrassment, and that's just the way I am. And I don't know that there's a cure for that. But I think that's isn't that interesting.


You have a low threshold for embarrassment, yet you have no problem embarrassing other people. There you go. There you go. There you go. What is that? I don't know.


You and I and my psychiatrist should get together and we'll have a conversation on exactly that point.


Yeah. Do you see a psychiatrist? Yes, I do. Regularly is once a week regularly. What do you still need to figure out? Oh, my goodness. Oprah really is a lot of stuff. You know, there's a lot of stuff I still feel like you need to heal or work on. Well, I'll tell you that you could share with us for a long time, I thought I was a decent guy, but yet thinking that I was a decent guy, I was still capable of behavior that didn't wasn't coincidental to living a decent life.


And then that's what I'm working on. I, I, I want I want to really be the person I believe that I was. I want to be a good person. I want to believe you were I believed I was a good person, but yet I was capable of behavior inconsistent with somebody who is a good person. And you can't eradicate the record, but going forward, you can not be that way again. So that's that's what I've been working on.


Yeah. Are you talking about having sex or affairs with people in your office? Is that what you're talking about? No, I'm talking about stealing cars. OK, of course. Yeah.


That behavior landed David at the center of a very public sex scandal. Just six months after he married Regina, David came clean to his wife and his viewers, revealing on his show that over the years he had sex with women who worked for him.


Having lived through that sex scandal, I realized, wait a minute, you want to get just a safe sex scandal, Dave. You want to get through your whole life and not have the word sex scandal attached to your name. That's right. Yeah, that's right. You didn't make it did not make it. Have no one to blame but myself. And now I feel I feel better about myself. My relationship with my wife is never better. And it's just because I want to be the person I always thought I was and probably was pretending I was.


And so far it's it's been great if things have been great. I heard a lot of people I have nobody to blame but myself. I'm not looking to blame anybody. I'm looking to find out why I behave the way I behave.


I mean, I can only imagine what's going on behind the scenes. Did you do have handlers? Do you think this is the result of being handled? Do you have handlers? Do your handlers come and say to you, I mean, how does that that news come to you? That's good.


Well, bad day. Yeah. I still think if you're going to have a flowchart of the responsibility for this circumstance, this sex scandal. Yes. My name's at the top. Yeah. And I'm not sure what it means, but I'm taking responsibility for it. I'm trying to atone for it. And in atoning for it, you eliminate that behavior and apologize to the people you hurt. Going forward, there's not much more you can do it was that one of the hardest days of your life when you're standing behind the curtain or wherever you stand before you come out, when you know you're going to now, quote, confessed to the country about what has happened?


Yeah, it was it was tough. It was tough. But I will tell you something that in the back of my mind, this gives you an idea of the extent, the breadth and width of. What a weasel I could be, I, I was thinking, and maybe I can make this maybe I can get a little sympathy out of this deal here, you know, are you? Yeah, I think I was probably hoping that rather than being the actual the one who was guilty, I thought maybe I could generate some sympathy.


So it's not just awful.


Yeah, well, you know, Dave, tell me how you came to that conclusion, because you were later people later said that it was remarkable the way you handled it. But how did you come to the conclusion, I'm going to face the music, I'm going to tell the truth. How is it whether it was that lots of people in on that discussion or mostly was that a conversation led by you? Well, it was you know, I had friends that I talk to about it, but I don't know what my choices were.


What are you pretending it's not happening? A lot of people like, you know, people lie. A lot of people lie and say, yes, yeah. But the end result so far, a work in progress was telling Virgina the hardest. Well, yeah, I say, yeah, that's not that's not a good day, but. You know, here we are. You think she'd stay with you? Through the whole thing, I don't know.


Well, it wasn't certain at the time, I wasn't certain, wasn't certain at the time. Did you have to sleep on the couch? I I slept a wide variety of places. How did you make it better? I'm still trying to fix it. It hasn't gone away. It'll never go away. She's been tremendous. She's got great courage. She she's greatly intelligent. And how did you regain her trust? That's what I'm still doing. I'm still doing it each and every day in big ways and small ways and and get the reward of the nature of a relationship I never experienced before in my life, nor did I ever think was possible.


Did did it bring you closer? Absolutely. Absolutely. We went through this together. We have that in common. And I'm telling you, she it's great. My my life is is fun and and full of joy now that I only pretended that before. Wow. So how about that. How about that. Exactly. Let's do one of these. Hey, so she's forgiven you.


She has forgiven me. Have you forgiven. You know. No, I don't I don't have that luxury, I have to figure out what I did, why I did it and live with it, but I can't forgive that behavior. And I'm like I said, I'm at the top of the flow chart. It's it's my fault. Everything. But anything that pushes you in the right direction can't be such a bad thing. Right. Right.


Because this happened, you now are going to therapy once a week. You've opened up in ways you just said it. That's it, Dave. That's our whole goal for life is to throw more joy. That's right. Would you say that as a result of this incident, you are now able to feel more joy working on yourself? All credit. All credit to my wife, though, because you got to give some to yourself for working on yourself.


OK, give it to yourself. All right. Thank you, Oprah. OK, I'll remind Regina of the.


But Oprah said, OK, so, you know, you have you have had certainly in the past, you gained a reputation for mocking celebrities, doing interviews.


I don't mean to be mean, but I became very mindful of that and tried to cut back on it. But if it's laying right there, you got to take a shot, you know?


I mean, you can't let it go. That's the comedian. And you. Well, yeah, if that constitutes being a comedian.


Yeah. Yeah, a wise ass. Oh, why is it. Well, like when Joaquin Phoenix comes on. Yeah. And you know, I look at him and I know he knows that. I know that it's Halloween that none of this is real.


In 2009, actor Joaquin Phoenix made a bizarre appearance on the Letterman show. He appeared to be confused and on drugs. No one knew if the whole thing was a joke, if David was in on it or if Joaquin was really having a very public breakdown. Joaquin would later reveal that his odd behavior was all a hoax.


Did you know before that they said, look out walking Phoenix and his buddy Ben Affleck or Ben Affleck's brother? Your brother? Yeah, Larry's Jere Van Affleck, I don't know.


Yeah. Is they're doing a thing and good luck. And so I knew that. And so when he came out, I just thought, well, this is like a light workout on the on the speed bag. It was just you were you in on the you.


That's what everybody wants to know. Are you in on that? I knew there was a joke, but I was not in on it. And once I looked at him, then I realized all bets are off, let's go to work because it couldn't possibly be. And that famous line that just come out. Yeah, yeah. But thanks for not being here. Lynn just came out of nowhere. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.


Did you have fun. Oh, I loved it. I just loved it. And I got such a kick out of him because I thought, this is great. You're willing to ruin your career to come out here and pretend this and I get to be a part of and you get to play and we get to play around to play.


So and there have been times when you like I should apologise. I think you did an apology to Rachael Ray, did an apology to Justin Bieber. Not an apology, but you. Absolutely.


I thought I made Justin Bieber cry and I felt bad about that, but I don't think I did. The kid can take a punch. I like the kid. He's he's really pretty good. But something happened. I don't even know what it was. And I thought, oh, jeez, maybe you forget that they're only they're sixteen, you know, you forget that they're little now. Eighteen. But he was a kid. Yeah. Yeah. And so here I am.


Why you not a sixteen year.


I know it was awful and I felt awful about it. And then we were reassured that he was OK. Yeah.


I saw the apology that you made to Sarah Palin's daughter. It seemed that you were genuinely apologetic there.


After Sarah Palin attended a New York Yankees game with her 14 year old daughter, Willow, David cracked a sex joke about a baseball player and the young girl. Letterman says he thought Sarah Palin was with her oldest daughter, Bristol, who made headlines when she became pregnant at age 17. Why did you apologize?


I'll tell you why I apologized. I felt like Sarah Palin was somebody I wanted to continue to be able to make fun of, and I felt like it. I don't apologize. If I don't sincerely express my regret, I will not be able to go forward making fun of her. And truly, I felt bad for the 14 year old. You know, that was just like, oh, nice going. You got the wrong daughter. That was just dumb.


A stupid joke that fell on the dumb luck and got worse.


Does it bother you in general or specifically if you have hurt someone's feelings with a joke? Does it bother you if you have hurt feelings?


Yes, it has. And many times I have called people to apologize. Really?


Yeah, but I did have to call apologize the poor Paris Hilton, because she says I'll talk about anything but being in jail. Oh. And I said, well, that's all I want to talk about.


And so we we ran it two or three questions deep and now she starts to do this. I thought, oh, God, here we go. So I called and apologized to her. And that's just, you know, scratching the surface, oh, OK.


We'll be here all day if we went through the list. Yeah, right. But I do feel bad about it, but it's it's just a matter of self-control.


I want to know if this is true or not.


Did you actually think I was angry with you or did it make a better joke as far as I know, the genesis of this. People still think we have a feud going. Yeah, well, I want them to think that no, I did for a while. You did, because it was it was great for me when we when I would bait you about coming on the show. Yeah. Oh, big. Laughs Everybody for two days straight.


You did? Yeah. How did this start?


Actually, you know, I think it was it was one time we were coming to do the show in Chicago. Yes. And I called you. I never forget.


And so I got you on the phone and you you barked at me and you said, oh, well, the least you could have done was called me on a hard line.


Yeah. So I thought, oh, did you yeah, I said I barked and I said, oh no, I didn't even get beyond hello and I've pissed her off.


So then I said, Oprah, we're doing a show in Chicago. We would love for you to be on the show. I am totally out of town. I am totally out of town. So and so that's what in my mind, that's where it was.


Let me tell you what my memory is. Would you like to hear mine? Yes. OK, you would ask me before to do you in Chicago and I did you in Chicago. It's on record. I did you in Chicago and it was a terrible experience for me.


It was a terrible experience.


The guy in the audience started yelling, Get her, Dave. And you were sort of baiting the audience and there are a bunch of drunk guys down the front. And I was trying to like, you know, mitigate the whole thing. And it felt so uncomfortable to me that I didn't want to have that experience again. That's really all it was for me. I just didn't want to be well in that uncomfortable scene completely.


And I apologize because you don't even have to apologize. It never registered to me that that would be offensive.


Nor do I remember the episode you don't people have because you are just doing what you do, right? Yeah. But you were using the moment and the guys were all going better. But I didn't I didn't know.


But of course that would be hurtful. Yeah. Yeah.


I'm surprised you're here now honestly, to figure, you know, it was just and even over the years when you were doing the Oprah come on the show, Gayle, who, you know, best friend, and I was saying you should do it.


You should do it. I go, you were not in that room. You did not feel well.


I'm more than embarrassed. And I bet if I had the courage to go look at that videotape, it would sicken me. And I'm. And I'm sorry. I'm very sorry.


Well, don't be. Well, I am I am sorry for that experience, OK, but that's what it was for me, OK? And it wasn't about you. Well, it was. Forgive me. Thank you. I hope we can put this behind us. So let us do it. Is it done?


As far as I am done. Yeah, done. So how did having a son shift you? Did it shift something inside it or am I making that up?


No, you're not making it up. And I feel stupid talking about it because how many people are there on the planet? Seven. Seven billion. Yes. So so everybody goes through that. But it happens that that switch is thrown and the window opens up in your heart and the sun shines in. And I know that's corny, but there's no turning that off and it exists today and it'll exist till the day I drop dead for you.


By the way, I'm having chest pains now.


I'm laughing. That's not true, right? No, but you're the first one to check. I've done that before and nobody bothered to check this out. You're right, because we can stop tape if that is the case.


I've read about your struggle with depression. Yeah. Do you still get depressed?


I never knew what depression was. I knew what kind of sad to do. I'm kind of blue today. Urges the Reds lost. I knew that. This, I'm telling you, is you get on an elevator and the bottom drops out and you can't stand looking at the sunlight. You can't wait to get back in bed at night. You're shaking your shivering.


And I went through this for about six months and whole.


My God, how are you able to work every day being depressed?


I just push through it. I had to push through it. Could you be funny? Well, as funny as you can when you're depressed, but it's a sinkhole, and people who have gone through it know exactly what I'm talking about. It's a sinkhole. And you think you're not coming out of it. You really think you're not coming out of it? I was amazed by it. I was amazed by the chemical mechanism in your brain that can just drop you like that.


I mean, just really from the abyss. Yes, yes. Yes.


And then somebody told me, they said, you know what? We're given these chemicals, the serotonin and whatever else, dopamine and so forth, because if we didn't have them, the world would scare the crap out of us.


Absolutely. So I thought, yeah, I don't know if that's true or not, but when I was depressed, it made sense.


Did it also bring to you a sense of compassion for other people who've been through it did make you more compassionate? Yep.


Because I always thought, oh, you're depressed. Go do some push ups, you'll feel much better. But it's not that.


It's not that. Yeah, OK. I have to ask you this. You always remembered for the top 10 lists. Will you finish this sentence? The number one reason David Letterman has the extraordinary life that he has is number one reason. I'm missing a chromosome. I don't know if you've had today, I know you've had these moments where you've been introspective here.


Where you just say, wow, look at my life, this is this is a really huge, extraordinary life, right. I've created for myself. And the reason this is all happened to me is. Well, I don't know, I you know, I can't I'll lead council to finish this. I don't know what to say. Regina and I have this conversation from time to time. And the thing here's what I've taken away from this with Regina.


Yes. We'll go down this road and she'll say, think about this. Yeah, 30 years, 30 plus years. You've given jobs to all these people. Yes. And so I think.


All right, I'll take that. That's good. I'm proud of that. I'm very proud of that. Yes. And that's as far as it goes. Let's get lunch. Let's get lunch. Was fun. That was fun. Yeah, it's fun. I'd rather.


I'm Oprah Winfrey and you've been listening to Super Soul Conversations, the podcast. You can follow Super Soul on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. If you haven't yet, go to Apple podcast and subscribe rate and review this podcast. Join me next week for another super soul conversation. Thank you for listening.